County voices opposition to New Ulm juvenile facility

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Austin County commissioners unanimously agreed Monday to oppose the continued operation of an at-risk juvenile group home in New Ulm.

While the Commissioners Court does not have regulatory authority over the privately-owned group home, their resolution calls for a full investigation by Texas Sen. Lois Kolkhorst and asks that she use her authority to close the facility.

Five Oaks Achievement Center recently made headlines when a runaway from the facility set fire to a private residence in the area. The 15-year-old left the home in the early hours of Jan. 18 and walked half a mile through the woods, setting fire to a home. No one was injured.

The Austin County District Attorney’s Office announced last week in a press release that the runaway stated “lax security at Five Oaks allowed him to walk out of the facility while supervisors were asleep.” The juvenile pleaded “true” to burglary of a habitation and arson and was placed by court order in a Texas Juvenile Justice Department facility on Feb. 1.

"After the assessment, TJJD will place him in one of their facilities for treatment and detention. He will be held a minimum of one year and up to his 19th birthday," Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Kortney Estep said. "Upon completion of that term, he could be released. Depending on his conduct, he could be transferred to adult prison."

Austin County Sheriff Jack Brandes told Commissioners Court on Monday that over the month of January 2018, his deputies responded to 45 calls at Five Oaks, including 28 runaway calls involving 23 children. Other calls also included two 911 hang-ups, five calls for emergency medical services, one civil call, one follow-up call, one welfare call, two regarding damage to property, one disturbance, one arrest/warrant, one terroristic threat, one call regarding child abuse and one request to speak to an officer.

Commissioner Randy Reichardt said he believes this is a Child Protective Services issue, and “they should go out there and investigate.” Sheriff Brandes responded that CPS officials have visited the site several times since the fire occurred last month.

The resolution signed by Judge Tim Lapham and all four commissioners stated the following:

Resolution opposing the continued operation of Five Oaks Achievement Center in New Ulm, Texas:

Whereas, Austin County, Texas, a political subdivision of the State of Texas is committed to preserving the safety and property of its citizens, and

Whereas, Austin County, Texas, a political subdivision of the State of Texas is committed to preventing the abuse or neglect of any child, and promoting the health and well-being of all children and

Whereas, Five Oaks Achievement Center in New Ulm, Texas, a residential treatment center licensed through the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, License No. 809907, has been entrusted with the care of at-risk children between the ages of 4 and 17 years of age, and

Whereas, various Austin County offices and officials have received repeated complaints and reports of children at Five Oaks Achievement Center being improperly supervised, frequently running away and damaging property in the surrounding community, and

Now therefore, be it resolved by the Commissioners Court of Austin County, Texas, that:

1.We completely and absolutely oppose the continued operation of Five Oaks Achievement Center in New Ulm, Texas; and

2.We further call upon Sen. Lois Kolkhorst to use her authority as a Texas senator to call for the investigation and closure of this facility.

Signed on Feb. 12, 2018.

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